Saturday, June 1, 2013
Hawks' cool confidence serves them well
By Pierre LeBrun
CHICAGO -- Perhaps revealing of their journey traveled of late, nobody in their dressing room batted an eye during the first intermission.
No, despite outshooting the visitors 17-2 only to be down 1-0 on the scoreboard, the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room was apparently serene as can be.
"No one was worried in here," said Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. "It might as well have been 3-0 for us. We were fine in here."
With Jonathan Quick doing his thing in the Kings' net -- he was superb again Saturday -- a more inexperienced team might have gotten a little rattled by opening a series with tilted ice but a score favoring the other team.
Instead, the Blackhawks stuck with their game plan, confident that as they kept coming, eventually they’d get a screen or a tip or a rebound to beat Quick. They got two out of those three, the only recipe possible in putting pucks behind the best goaltender in the NHL.
First, Blackhawks blueliner Johnny Oduya on the rush hammered a shot from the sideboards inside the Kings zone that produced a juicy rebound for Patrick Sharp, the Hawks’ talented goal scorer beating coverage from Drew Doughty and slipping the puck past Quick to tie the game 1-1 at 12:29 of the middle period.
With the Hawks energized by a rocking United Center, they continued to come in waves, Marian Hossa then delivering an artist’s deflection of a Duncan Keith point shot, making it 2-1 at 16:22.
And that’s all the offense the Blackhawks would need in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, a tidy 2-1 decision doing the trick.
But in many ways the opener was a microcosm of the manner in which the Hawks are going to have to use their high-end offensive skill to get goals on Quick.
"Yeah, he's a good goalie," said Sharp, who tallied his team-leading eighth goal of the playoffs. "We all know that. He makes saves. He makes saves when he sees the puck, when he doesn't see the puck. Anytime you can get those second and third chances, that's the idea. We were fortunate with a couple goals in the second period."
That’s a little humble. Sharp showed his sense of anticipation in getting to where a rebound might appear given the angle of Oduya’s shot.
Hossa? Man, that tip was a thing of high-end beauty.
That’s what it’s going to take against Quick.
"He's one of the fastest goalies in the league, if not the fastest," said Hossa.
"Whatever he sees, he's going to stop it. You have to have traffic in front of him, pin him in the blue paint and put lots of pucks in the corners or in his feet and go for the second chances."
The other key for the Blackhawks will be to minimize the physical forechecking of the Kings. They were able to do that in Game 1, Chicago’s defense corps quickly turning around Los Angeles dump-ins and moving the puck out to fast-breaking Hawks forwards.
"We came out with lots of speed through the neutral zone. I think our forwards did a good job of supporting us, coming in low and giving us the opportunity to hit them with good passes," said Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. "When you’re doing that, you’re breaking out of your zone clean. That means you’re keeping the puck out of your own zone for the most part."
When the Kings are playing their game, it’s by pounding the opposing defense and setting up a cycle game that’s hard to break.
That didn’t really materialize Saturday.
"We've got to have more zone time and establish our game," said Kings blueliner Matt Greene. "That's what we've got to do, is get pucks behind their D and the forecheck."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter shuffled his forward lines multiple times in the third period, trying to find a spark.
Afterward, he talked about the play of his top players "falling off" as the game went on.
Certainly on this night, there wasn’t much from the likes of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter or Dustin Brown.
In a game decided by one goal, it was duly noted by Sutter that two of Chicago’s big guns in Hossa and Sharp found the score sheet.
"I think the two guys that scored for them are going to score goals," said Sutter. "We have guys that have to score goals. That's how close it will be."
The Kings have little time to dwell on things. Game 2 is Sunday here at 8 p.m. ET. Outshot 36-22 and with very little offensive-zone time, the Kings understand what they need Sunday.
"There were a lot of things we can do better out there as individuals and as a team," said Kings veteran Robyn Regehr. "Those are the important things we need to correct before the next game.
"We didn’t play very well, especially in the first 40 minutes," Regehr added. "We didn’t do a very good job right off the start, getting outshout considerably in the first two periods. Not doing a good job coming out of the zone, not getting sustained pressure on the forecheck -- all those things. We didn’t a very good job at all."
The Kings are now 1-6 on the road in the playoffs, definitely a different team away from Staples Center, where they’re rocking a 7-0 record and looking more like the physically dominating team that grinds the opposition into submission.
A year ago, the Kings were able to travel with that kind of game en route to a Stanley Cup.
They need to find that road game in a hurry. Home ice alone won’t save them in the Western Conference finals.